In the beginning there was Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM—two different political parties, sharply divided in philosophy and agenda, the likelihood of having the two in an alliance was unarguably negligible.
On the campaign trail to the botched 2019 tri-partite elections, MCP and UTM traded scary barbs that a slight dream of having the two together, one day, would have seen millions demanding they help you to a mental hospital.
The two were unlikely political bedfellows: MCP represents traditional values of calm and respect; UTM represented progressives who always demand with impatience.
But boom! Tonse Alliance was born and beautiful pictures of two smiling general, Saulos Chilima and Lazarus Chakwera, graced the headlines—a conclusion of their coming together to remove Peter Mutharika from office.
About five months in office now, the pair, of course, always looks promising on podiums, especially when they are shiny in suits and sharing hugs.
But when we go deep in street talk and politicking, it is all not rosy. The ground they are standing on is shaky. The falconer appears to be getting mute from another falconer—and tongues are wagging about fallout that is imminent.
As it is in politics, there is always a moment, an event, or a trigger that presents a ground to appreciate the depth and width of a problem.
For MCP and UTM troubles, nothing comes sharper and befitting than the by-election in Karonga Central Constituency which, because of vile campaign, has exposed the widening cracks in the ruling coalition, especially between the President and his deputy.
The by-election was called after the sitting MP, the MCP’s Cornelius Mwalwanda, died of Covid-19. His nephew Leonard Mwalwanda, the new MCP candidate, is fighting the UTM’s candidate Frank Tumpale Mwenefumbo. A cavalcade of senior party and government officials has trooped in to Karonga, dubbed ‘Benghazi’ because of its reputation for violent confrontations between the young faithful of both parties, to hold rallies and convince voters.
Cabinet ministers and senior officials led by Chakwera’s Vice-President for the North, Harry Mkandawire, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Madalitso Kazombo and Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo, have urged voters at rallies to vote MCP and ignore the UTM, which they say is only a ‘passenger’ in the new administration.
A leading light in the MCP campaign is the firebrand civil society leader-turned-politician Timothy Mtambo, who was highly effective in the mass protests against electoral commission chair Judge Jane Ansah in the run up to the decision by Malawian judges to cancel the 2019 presidential election, which was re-run on 23 June.
Mtambo, capitalising on his initially non-partisan Citizens for Transformation which he created in April, has been trying to draw UTM followers into the MCP camp which he now aligns with.
The UTM hdeployed equally heavy ammunition, led by the formidable Gender Minister and UTM Secretary General Patricia Kaliati, aided by the late President Bingu wa Mutharika’s widow, Callista Mutharika, and Mwenifumbo.
For a context, we shouldn’t forget that we have a background of trouble between MCP and UTM resulting from tacit issues emanating from how Chakwera instituted his Cabinet.
The UTM argued that he reneged on a Finance portfolio, which went instead to Felix Mlusu, a prominent local CEO. The MCP got defence, health, transport and infrastructure, land and housing, agriculture, mining, foreign affairs, trade, justice and environmental affairs.
Instead of finance, Chilima became Economic Planning Minister. The UTM got the less central portfolios of information, education, energy, tourism and gender. The party rankled at only getting 15% of state appointments to public companies, which in has caused many in the party to question the value of their coalition.
A break-up in the coalition is thought by most pundits to be extremely unlikely, especially this early. Both parties urgently need access to the resources that being in government gives them, and neither will want to give that up.
The by-election also reflects a wider struggle between the UTM and the MCP for the faith of DPP MPs.
Another destabilising factor in the political scene is over the status of Chilima himself. Elected Vice-President with President Peter Mutharika in 2014, he is now serving his two consecutive terms of office.
The Tonse alliance pact between Chakwera and Chilima was that it will be rotational presidency. Chilima said publicly that they agreed Chakwera to lead first and then he leads next time polling but according to a ruling in 2009 by the Constitutional Court, a vice president who has served two consecutive terms cannot run again either as vice-president or as president.
However, the law on this is not clear and Chilima supporters certainly believe the veep is eligible to stand for the presidency in 2025.
As of now, Chilima’s social media team has gone into overdrive accusing the government of nepotism, corruption and breaking campaign promises. He feels he is being kept at a distance and Chakwera’s recent decision to delegate Mia to Tanzania is just a nail on the coffin.
The question is: Will MCP and UTM stand the tide until 2025? Hopefully they will but, speaking facts, it doesn’t seem so. –Additional reporting by Africa Confidential.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :